There has been recent focus on alleged Iran cyber activity the past few weeks, spurned on by the publication of a vendor report on Iranian operations. Per the vendor’s findings, not only was Iran likely behind the activity that was targeting government and private sector in the Middle East, it was implementing National Security Agency exploits that were stolen and dumped into the public domain by the Shadow Brokers group in April 2017. As recently as late August 2018, Iran is suspected of trying to launch influence operations ahead of the midterm elections. The conclusion is that Iran is increasingly using asymmetric attacks, particularly via cyberspace, as part of its tool box to conduct retaliatory attacks.
The new reporting comes at a time when Russia’s cyber malfeasance has largely dominated the press, due to its influence operations efforts and election shenanigans, not just in the United States but in other countries as well. Prior to the Russia focus, North Korea was the focal point with its suspected cyber activities targeting cryptocurrency, and the SWIFT banking transactions before that. Iran was propelled onto the scene with Operation Ababil
Nowadays the cyber security is essential for individuals, companies, economies, governments and nations as a whole. The reality is that all of them are trying to stay on track against the latest cyberattacks, but there are some countries committing most to cybersecurity.
One of the best ways to determine where most of the cyber attack really come from in real time is by using the map created by Norse.
Another great alternative if you want to find out which are the countries best prepared against cyberattacks is to use the Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI) created by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). As described by them it is “…a survey that measures the commitment of Member States to cybersecurity in order to raise awareness.” The GCI covers the five pillars of the ITU Global Cybersecurity Agenda (GCA): legal, technical, organizational, capacity building and cooperation.
In June 2018, Vietnam’s National Assembly passed a new cyber security law that has generated much concern for its stringent restrictions on popular social media organizations. Per the law that will go into effect January 1, 2019, tech companies would be compelled to store data about Vietnamese users on servers in-country, a move designed to improve the security of Vietnamese nationals. Vietnam has been historically weak when in it comes to cyber security, and has been ranked among the bottom regionally. According to a 2017 report by the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union Global Cyber Security Index (GCI), Vietnam ranked 101 out of 165 countries in terms of being vulnerable to cyber attacks. The GCI is a survey that measures the commitment of member states to cybersecurity to classify and project development process at the regional and global levels.
There are several critics of the new cyber security law. Such a move – as has been expressed with regards to China’s new cyber laws – can potentially impact economic development and deter foreign investment. Perhaps more alarming, dissenters and even some Vietnamese lawmakers signed petitions and conducted peaceful demonstrations to denounce the new law. At the crux of this protest is the potential for the government to use this law in order to stifle human rights and privacy concerns such as online freedoms of speech and expression. According to the law, Vietnam’s authorities will have the discretion to determine when expression might be identified as “illegal” and restricted. It bans Internet users in Vietnam from organizing to conduct activities for “anti-state purposes” or to be allowed to distort the nation’s history. Unsurprisingly, Amnesty International has underscored how the law could empower the government to monitor everything people say online.
A recent interview of Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed insight into his – and by extension – Russia’s views concerning cyber attacks, and really the cyber domain, as a whole. Made at a joint press briefing with France’s president, when asked about alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Putin remarked: “Action always causes reaction” and that “If one does not want to get a reaction he does not like, rules for actions need to be set.” Putin pointed out that in the early days of nuclear weapons, governments had found a way to negotiate guidelines on their use, an effort that should be replicated in today’s political climate. While not necessarily as catastrophic as nuclear weapons, the potential impact is similar in that the disruption and/or destruction of interconnected information technology can potentially impact millions of people. The implication is certainly clear: an international understanding needs to be done sooner rather than later.
These public pronouncements of the Russian president are noteworthy as they provide insight into not only how Russia views the activities that transpire in cyberspace but express a potential avenue of engagement for world leaders to approach Russia on these issues. Cyber norms and discussions of how states have been ongoing in international forums. The preferred U.S. approach – via the United Nations Group of Experts in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security (GGE) – notably stalled in June 2017, calling into question if this Western-preferred approach to establishing norms will succeed under this umbrella.
According to recent reporting, a suspected nation state hacker group with alleged ties to the Iranian government issued death threats to researchers that had detected their cyber espionage activity. The researchers were checking a server that they believed to be associated with a specific data breach when they received the message “Stop!!! I Kill You Researcher.” According to the same report, the server was apparently attached to the attackers’ command-and-control infrastructure. Active since 2015, the group known as “MuddyWaters” has been observed targeting organizations in Georgia, India, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, and the United States. Recently, MuddyWaters has been observed targeting oil and gas entities in the Middle East. Notably, the group is believed to employ “false flag” operations – similar to what was believed to have been done during the recent Olympics – in which it adopted some of the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) of suspected Chinese hackers to obfuscate the group’s true identity.
On the surface, the threat made against the researchers can be viewed as knee-jerk reaction to being tracked by the private sector. But this does raise the possibility of what hostile actors may resort to in the future. The private sector computer security has been aggressively investigating the activities of suspected nation states actors since 2004 when the first report published the activities of a Chinese state entity. Since that time, several subsequent reports have been provided to the public detailing “advanced persistent threat” operations detailing TTPs and targeting that have ultimately been attributed to specific nation state actors. While the standard public reaction of these governments has been to refute or deny the claims, citing the difficulties in providing adequate evidence that supports attribution, sanctions and alleged retaliatory strikes have been know to occur as a result of these accusations.
On June 27, 2017, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) released its National Cyber Threat Response Plan to help bolster its cyber security posture. According to news sources citing a document posted on the CAC website, the Plan includes a four-tier color-coded warning system that ranked the severity of cyber attacks Red (the highest level), Orange, Yellow, or Blue (the lowest level).
in December 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a new information security doctrine, which updates the older 2000 version. The doctrine, a system of official views on the insurance of the national security of the country in the information sphere, regards the main threats to Russia’s security and national interest from foreign information making its way into the country, and sets priorities for countering them.